Walter Bruce Willis (born March 19, 1955) is an American actor, producer with Cheyenne Enterprises, and singer. Born to a German mother and American father in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, he moved to the United States with his family in 1957. His career began on the Off-Broadway stage in the 1970s. He later achieved fame with his leading role on the hit television series Moonlighting (1985–89). He has since appeared in over 70 films and is widely regarded as an "action hero", due to his portrayal of John McClane in the Die Hard franchise (1988–2013), and other such roles.
His credits also include Death Becomes Her (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), 12 Monkeys (1995), The Fifth Element (1997), Armageddon (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Sin City (2005), Red (2010), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Expendables 2 (2012), Looper (2012), and as David Dunn in the Unbreakable film series: Unbreakable (2000), Split (2016) and Glass (2019). He made his Broadway debut in the stage adaptation of Misery in 2015. As a musician, Willis released his debut album, The Return of Bruno, in 1987. He has since released two more solo albums, in 1989 and 2001.
Willis is the recipient of several accolades, including a Golden Globe, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and two People's Choice Awards. He received a star on theHollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.
Early life and education
Walter Bruce Willis was born on March 19, 1955, in the town of Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. His father, David Willis, was an American soldier. His mother, Marlene, was German, born in Kassel. Willis is the oldest of four children with a sister named Florence and two brothers, Robert (deceased) and David.
After being discharged from the military in 1957, Willis's father took his family back to Carneys Point Township, New Jersey. Willis has described himself as having come from a "long line of blue collar people". His mother worked in a bank and his father was a welder, master mechanic, and factory worker.Willis attended Penns Grove High School in his hometown, where he encountered issues with a stutter.He was nicknamed "Buck-Buck" by his schoolmates. Willis joined the drama club in high school, and acting on stage reduced his stutter. He was eventually appointed student council president.
After he graduated from high school in 1973, Willis took a job as a security guard at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant and transported work crews at the DuPont Chambers Works factory in Deepwater, New Jersey. After working as a private investigator (a role he would play in the television series Moonlighting and the 1991 film The Last Boy Scout), Willis turned to acting. He enrolled in the Drama Program at Montclair State University, where he was cast in the class production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Willis left school in his junior year in 1977 and moved to New York City, where in the early 1980s he supported himself as a bartender at the West 19th Street art bar Kamikaze. At the time, he lived in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan.
He performed as an extra in Paul Newman's closing summation scene in The Verdict in 1982.
1979-1991: Start prominence
Willis left New York City and headed to California to audition for several television shows. In 1984, he appeared in an episode of the TV series Miami Vice, titled "No Exit".
In 1985, he was the guest actor in the first episode of the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, "Shatterday". He successfully auditioned for the role of David Addison Jr. of the television series Moonlighting (1985–1989), competing against 3,000 other actors for the position.
The starring role, opposite Cybill Shepherd, helped to establish him as a comedic actor, with the show lasting five seasons winning him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Television Series Musical or Comedy. During the height of the show's success, beverage maker Seagram hired Willis as the pitchman for their Golden Wine Cooler products. The advertising campaign paid the rising star between $5–7 million over two years. In spite of that, Willis chose not to renew his contract with the company when he decided to stop drinking alcohol in 1988.
Willis had his first lead role in a feature film in the 1987 Blake Edwards film Blind Date, with Kim Basingerand John Larroquette. Edwards cast him again to play the real-life cowboy actor Tom Mix in Sunset(1988). However, it was his then-unexpected turn in the film Die Hard (1988) as John McClane that catapulted him to movie star and action hero status. He performed most of his own stunts in the film, and the film grossed $138,708,852 worldwide.
Following his success with Die Hard, he had a leading role in the drama In Country as Vietnam veteran Emmett Smith and also provided the voice for a talking baby in Look Who's Talking, as well as its sequel, Look Who's Talking Too.
In the late 1980s, Willis enjoyed moderate success as a recording artist, recording an album of pop-blues titled The Return of Bruno, which included the hit single "Respect Yourself" featuring The Pointer Sisters.The LP was promoted by a Spinal Tap–like rockumentary parody featuring scenes of Willis performing at famous events including Woodstock. He released a version of the Drifters song "Under the Boardwalk" as a second single; it got to No. 2 in the UK Top 40 but was less successful in the U.S. Willis returned to the recording studio several times afterward.
1992-1999: Best actor value
Having acquired major personal success and pop culture influence playing John McClane in Die Hard, Willis reprised his role in the sequels Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). These first three installments in the Die Hard series grossed over US$700 million internationally and propelled Willis to the first rank of Hollywood action stars.
In the early 1990s, Willis's career suffered a moderate slump, as he starred in flops such as The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). He gained more success with Striking Distance (1993) but flopped again with Color of Night (1994): another box office failure, it was savaged by critics but did well in the home video market and became one of the Top 20 most-rented films in the United States in 1995.
In 1994, he had a supporting role as Butch Coolidge in Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed Pulp Fiction, which gave a new boost to his career. In 1996, he was the executive producer and star of the cartoon Bruno the Kid which featured a CGI representation of himself. That same year, he starred in Mike Judge's animated film Beavis and Butt-head Do America with his then-wife Demi Moore. In the movie, he plays a drunken criminal named "Muddy Grimes", who mistakenly sends Judge's titular characters to kill his wife, Dallas (voiced by Moore). He then played the lead roles in 12 Monkeys (1995) and The Fifth Element (1997). However, by the end of the 1990s his career had fallen into another slump with critically panned films likeThe Jackal, Mercury Rising, and Breakfast of Champions, saved only by the success of the Michael Bay-directed Armageddon which was the highest-grossing film of 1998 worldwide. The same year his voice and likeness were featured in the PlayStation video game Apocalypse. In 1999, Willis then played the starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's film, The Sixth Sense, which was both a commercial and critical success.
2000-2009: Uniform film all over the world
In 2000, Willis won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Friends (in which he played the father of Ross Geller's much-younger girlfriend). He was also nominated for a 2001 American Comedy Award (in the Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series category) for his work onFriends. Also in 2000, Willis played Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski inThe Whole Nine Yards alongside Matthew Perry. Willis was originally cast as Terry Benedict in Ocean's Eleven (2001) but dropped out to work on recording an album. In the sequel,Ocean's Twelve (2004), he makes a cameo appearance as himself. In 2005, he appeared in the film adaptation of Sin City. In 2007, he appeared in the Planet Terror half of the double feature Grindhouse as the villain, a mutant soldier. This marked Willis's second collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez, following Sin City.
Willis has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman several times throughout his career. He filled in for an ill David Letterman on his show February 26, 2003, when he was supposed to be a guest. On many of his appearances on the show, Willis stages elaborate jokes, such as wearing a day-glo orange suit in honor of the Central Park gates, having one side of his face made up with simulated buckshot wounds after theHarry Whittington shooting, or trying to break a record (parody of David Blaine) of staying underwater for only twenty seconds.
On April 12, 2007, he appeared again, this time wearing a Sanjaya Malakar wig. On his June 25, 2007, appearance, he wore a mini-turban on his head to accompany a joke about his own fictional documentary titled An Unappealing Hunch (a wordplay on An Inconvenient Truth).Willis also appeared in Japanese Subaru Legacy television commercials.Tying in with this, Subaru did a limited run of Legacys, badged "Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce", in honor of Willis.
Willis has appeared in five films with Samuel L. Jackson (National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Unbreakable, and Glass) and both actors were slated to work together in Black Water Transit, before dropping out. Willis also worked with his eldest daughter, Rumer, in the 2005 film Hostage. In 2007, he appeared in the thriller Perfect Stranger, opposite Halle Berry, the crime/drama film Alpha Dog, opposite Sharon Stone, and reprised his role as John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard. Subsequently, he appeared in the films What Just Happened and Surrogates, based on thecomic book of the same name.
2010-2017: Highest value for success
Willis starred with Tracy Morgan in the comedy Cop Out, directed by Kevin Smith and about two police detectives investigating the theft of a baseball card. The film was released in February 2010. Willis appeared in the music video for the song "Stylo" by Gorillaz. Also in 2010, he appeared in a cameo with former Planet Hollywood co-owners and '80s action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneggerin the film The Expendables. Willis played the role of generic bald man "Mr. Church". This was the first time these three notable action movie actors appeared on screen together. Although the scene featuring the three was short, it was one of the most highly anticipated scenes in the film. The trio filmed their scene in an empty church on October 24, 2009. Willis next starred in RED, an adaptation of the comic book mini-series of the same name, in which he portrayed Frank Moses. The film was released on October 15, 2010.
Willis starred alongside Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand in Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Filming took place in Rhode Island under the direction of Wes Anderson, in 2011. Willis returned, in an expanded role, in The Expendables 2 (2012). He appeared alongsideJoseph Gordon-Levitt in the sci-fi action film, Looper (2012), as the older version of Gordon-Levitt's character, Joe.
Willis teamed up with 50 Cent in a film directed by David Barrett called Fire with Fire, starring opposite Josh Duhamel and Rosario Dawson, about a fireman who must save the love of his life. Willis also joined Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Lay the Favorite, directed by Stephen Frears, about a Las Vegas cocktail waitress who becomes an elite professional gambler. The two films were distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment.
Willis reprised his most famous role, John McClane, for a fifth time, starring in A Good Day to Die Hard, which was released on February 14, 2013. In an interview, Willis said, "I have a warm spot in my heart for Die Hard..... it's just the sheer novelty of being able to play the same character over 25 years and still be asked back is fun. It's much more challenging to have to do a film again and try to compete with myself, which is what I do in Die Hard. I try to improve my work every time." On October 12, 2013, Willis hosted Saturday Night Live with Katy Perry as a musical guest. Willis will star in the movie adaptation of the video game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, named Kane & Lynch. In 2015, Willis made his Broadway debut in William Goldman's adaptation of Stephen King's novel Misery opposite Laurie Metcalf at the Broadhurst Theatre.
2018-present: Complete action
In 2018, it was announced that Willis would be the next to be roasted by Comedy Central. Films featuring Willis have grossed between US$2.64 billion and $3.05 billion at the North American box offices, making him in 2010 the eighth highest-grossing actor in a leading role and 12th-highest including supporting roles. He is a two-time Emmy Award winner, two-time Golden Globe Award winner, and has been nominated for a Saturn Award four times.
Willis owns property in Los Angeles and in Penns Grove, New Jersey; rents apartments at Trump Tower and in Riverside South, Manhattan, both in New York City; has a home in Malibu, California; a ranch in Montana; a beach house on Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos; and multiple properties in Sun Valley, Idaho. In 2000, Willis, with his business partner Arnold Rifkin, started a motion picture production company called Cheyenne Enterprises. He left the company to be run solely by Rifkin in 2007 after Live Free or Die Hard. He also owns several small businesses in Hailey, Idaho, including The Mint Bar and The Liberty Theater and is a co-founder of Planet Hollywood, with actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In 2009, Willis signed a contract to become the international face of Belvedere SA's Sobieski Vodka in exchange for 3.3% ownership in the company.
In popular culture
In 1996, Roger Director, a writer and producer from Moonlighting, wrote a roman à clef on Willis titled A Place to Fall. Cybill Shepherd wrote in her 2000 autobiography, Cybill Disobedience, that Willis became angry at Director when he read the book and discovered the character had been written as a "neurotic, petulant actor."
In 1998, Willis participated in Apocalypse, a PlayStation video game. The game was originally announced to feature Willis as a sidekick, not as the main character. The company reworked the game using Willis's likeness and voice and changed the game to use him as the main character.
A Lego version of himself appeared in the 2019 film The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, with Willis providing the voice.
Main article: Bruce Willis filmography
Awards and honors
Main articles: List of awards and nominations received by Bruce Willis
Willis has won a variety of awards and has received various honors throughout his career in television and film.
- 1987: Golden Apple Awards honored with the Sour Apple.
- 1994: Maxim magazine ranked his sex scene in Color of Night the No. 1 sex scene in film history
- 2000: American Cinematheque Gala Tribute honored Willis with the American Cinematheque Award for an extraordinary artist in the entertainment industry who is fully engaged in his or her work and is committed to making a significant contribution to the art of the motion pictures.
- 2002: The Hasty Pudding Man of the Year award from Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals – given to performers who give a lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment
- 2002: Appointed as national spokesman for Children in Foster Care by President George W. Bush; Willis wrote online: "I saw Foster Care as a way for me to serve my country in a system by which shining a little bit of light could benefit a great deal by helping kids who were literally wards of the government."
- 2005: Golden Camera Award for Best International Actor by the Manaki Brothers Film Festival.
- 2006: Honored by French government for his contributions to the film industry; appointed an Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters in a ceremony in Paris; the French Prime Minister stated, "This is France's way of paying tribute to an actor who epitomizes the strength of American cinema, the power of the emotions that he invites us to share on the world's screens and the sturdy personalities of his legendary characters."
- 2006: Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 16; located at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard and it was the 2,321st star awarded in its history; at the reception, he stated, "I used to come down here and look at these stars and I could never quite figure out what you were supposed to do to get one...time has passed and now here I am doing this, and I'm still excited. I'm still excited to be an actor."
- 2011: Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame
- 2013: Promoted to the dignity of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters on February 11 byFrench Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti